Kirsty Tyre was the March winner of our blog competition, read on to find out about her experience bear-watching in Finland.
"Creepy tree alert!’’ our guide whispered urgently.
We knew what this meant. Thrusting ourselves forward in our chairs, faces pressed to the peep holes, binoculars clasped to our eyes, we eagerly peered in the direction of the knarled, creepy looking tree. What was meant by this alert was a lot less sinister than it sounded. The binocular lens was filled with dark fur, which if nothing else, indicated that the need for binoculars was reneged. Removing them I was able to get my first glimpse with the naked eye: a wild brown bear.
I was safely, or so I sincerely hoped, tucked in a bear hide. This substantial wooden hut made it possible to observe bears in their natural habitat through peep holes that are open to the elements. Yes, that’s right: open to the elements. So here I was just metres away from aforementioned bear and with the option to stick my arm out through the peep hole if I so desired (which, incidentally, I didn’t).
My tour group, a troop of eight that had come together for this bear watching trip, fell silent, too afraid to make any noise for fear of disturbing the bear at best, and of enlightening it to our presence just metres away at worst.
‘’Chocolate,’’ Sabrina, our tour guide stated.
She was referring to the bear’s name, not checking our susceptibility to a sugar rush at this inopportune moment. Having lived and worked in the Lentiira area of Finland for some years, she was on first name terms with the majority of bears in the area and was able to give us the lowdown on their traits, characteristics and behaviour.
Chocolate, seeming oblivious to our presence, swaggered closer to the hut, turning rocks over with the effortless nonchalance that I suppose must be easily acquired when you weigh close to 500 kilograms. This nonchalance soon verged into arrogance as he began uplifting rocks with just one paw. By this point I was convinced that he was showing off for us. I even envisaged him returning to his family (of which we became familiar with later in the trip) that night, reporting that: ‘’Those daft humans were out again tonight have a good gawp at me.’’
Unable to locate anything more substantial to munch on, Chocolate resorted to a nearby berry tree. Standing up on his hind legs (again, I am sure he was just showing off), he began shaking the tree to loosen the berries before noisily gulping them down. You know when you are close to a bear when you can hear one salivating over their food, I thought, still mesmerised by his presence.
And so the bear display continued throughout the night: males eager to display their dominance, cubs playfully chasing each other around, females defensively venturing out for food….. By dawn, silence reigned once more and we were free to leave the bear hide, safe in the knowledge that it was now past bear bed time. Walking tentatively back through the woods, every twig snap a potential cause to panic, twenty minutes and a mile later I returned to the hotel a fully fledged bear watcher.
Kirsty travelled on our Brown Bear Weekend.